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Almost four million households are in debt to their energy supplier, owing an average of £128, according to a survey.
Debt among the 14% of households that owe money has increased by £5 on last year, despite the mild winter, following a series of price hikes, the poll by uSwitch found.
The average household energy bill is now £1,265 a year, £53 more than a year ago and £793 or 168% higher than in 2004.
A third of those in debt owe more than they did a year ago while 9% owe less, the survey found.
A quarter of households 25% are choosing to "turn a blind eye'' to their debt in the hope that the amount will decrease over time, 21% intend to pay it off with a lump sum, and 43% plan to increase their direct debit.
However worry over mounting debt is leading almost one in 10 (9%) to seek a repayment plan with their energy supplier.
Ann Robinson, uSwitch director of consumer policy, said: "Millions of households are in debt to energy suppliers and the amount they each owe has risen.
"This is a clear indication of the extreme pressure families are under to meet the rising cost of energy. The average household energy bill is £53 a year dearer than a year ago. For many consumers, the only thing that has kept this particular wolf from the door is the fact that this winter has been exceptionally mild.
"Those in energy debt can face a catch-22. Despite knowing they could reduce their bills by moving to a cheaper energy plan, many see debt as a barrier to switching.
"With a difference of over £300 between the cheapest and most expensive tariff on the market, consumers cannot afford to have this avenue closed to them. This is why it's so important to provide regular meter readings to suppliers as relying on estimated bills can be a shortcut to debt.
"I would also urge those who haven't yet done so to start paying energy bills by direct debit. This spreads the cost evenly throughout the year so that you can avoid the burden of heavier bills in the winter. You will also earn a valuable direct debit discount.
"However, anyone who has got to the stage where they are concerned about their ability to pay should contact their supplier sooner rather than later to discuss their options.''